It's a "Billy Joel Concert" kind of crowd. Laid back. Beer and wine. Warm greetings punctuated by hearty slaps on the back. Nearly everyone is snappily attired in black and red. In this regard, Terry Mohajir stands out from the crowd. The silver-haired athletic director wears a pearl grey suite with a crisp white shirt, his Red Wolves lapel pin provides the ensemble with the proper note of color. Mohajir sees me approach, and he raises his cup of beer, and we exchange cheers.
It 's only minutes past 5PM, but Coach Blake Anderson has already begun his 2016 National Signing Day breakdown. He stands in the center of the Woodard McAlister Family Club – the brand new stadium clubhouse for the best-connected Red Wolves fans – recounting statistics and anecdotes of each player purely from memory. It's actually quite impressive to witness. Anderson never stumbles for a name; barely pauses to draw breath.
"You can see he's fast," Anderson says, as the crowd watches video footage of fleet-footed Justin McInnis. "I like the guys that don't get tackled."
If Anderson is fatigued by a long day of securing recruits and doing media interviews, it isn't showing. He's proud of his guys. He likes them. He wants us to like them.
"Weh-Weh nearly gave me a heart attack," says Anderson, referring to the last recruit signed this morning, a big bruising tailback named Armond Weh-Weh. "I had to call and wake him up to get his papers in."
Everyone chuckles, as if we've all been there. Anderson makes you feel like you have. His voice – a roughened whet stone used for sharpening raw football talent – has a hypnotic quality to it. You'd listen in rapt attention even if he were reading the instructions for assembling a barbecue grill.
But he's not reading an instruction manual. Instead, Anderson is convincing us that this recruiting class is among the program's best. He reminds us of the athletes who signed early, and regales us with tantalizing tales of the transfers who have been on campus now for at least a semester.
"You're not going to believe this," says Anderson, "but our best punter has been here for months. Cameron Echols-Luper can kick the ball with the best of them."
The crowd laughs. Is Anderson serious? Is he joking? Is it possible that the TCU transfer and possibly the most explosive wideout on the roster is also the team's best punter? Not even Echols-Luper himself seems certain.
Hmmmm... Lol https://t.co/8YI6012vGe— Cameron Echols-Luper (@txsmde11) February 3, 2016
Before the mob could properly interrogate the truth out of Anderson, the coach summons Trooper Taylor to the floor and implores the charismatic assistant to share a recruiting anecdote. It's more of a comedy sketch, really – a rousing blend of Louis CK and Kevin Hart. The entire room is rolling. Trooper doesn't even use a microphone. His voice resonates over the laughter like the voice of Jupiter.
At last, Anderson fields a few questions from the audience before calling it an evening. Yes, Tajhea Chambers should be available for summer practice. No, he isn't sure if Robert Mondie will be granted another year of eligibility. Yes, he has a new running backs coach, but no he won't tell us who it is, at least not until next week. The crowd breaks into chunks and pieces, and I watch Anderson shake hands and trade well-wishes.
I don't even recognize Jason Martin. Not at first. Not without his helmet, anyway. The assistant AD is tall and lanky and likely one of the youngest men in the room. We chat about ticket sales, the basketball team, and whether or not he plans a sequel to The Helmet Stunt.
"No way," says Jason, his eyes rolling to the back of his head. "That was one of those things that sounded great at the time, but after a week..."
Jason represents the youth a vigor of Terry Mohajir's department. He has ambitions. He isn't comfortable. Programs like Arkansas State don't need comfortable. We shake hands and I go back to my Scotch and water.
Later, I find myself in the elevator with Joe Cauthen and Buster Faulkner, the DC and OC respectively. I'm not very smooth, and I'm wearing a ridiculous hipster hat. I'm not even a hipster. I'm something worse: a fake hipster. But Cauthen and Faulkner are too jovial to mind. I congratulate Buster on his new appointment and Joe on a fantastic season. They're nice guys. They seem to be good pals.
Outside, the Centennial Bank Stadium parking lot is mostly empty. Like a clueless house guest, I'm one of the last to leave. I stood in the darkness, my eyes set on the Dean B. Ellis clock tower, my heart lightened by the nostalgia of the place. It's dark, but it's early. I fish my heavy coat from the trunk of the car, and I head towards the tower. I could use a stroll.